SNOW STORM 2017 – A Ride To Remember!
Uttarkashi on the face of it seems to be a pretty lacklustre destination especially when you compare it to exotic places like Kinnaur, Reckong Peo, Spiti or Ladakh. Some 400 odd kilometres from Delhi, out of which 150 km are in the twisties, Uttarkashi is a town that can be a great springboard for reaching some amazing places further up into deeper Himalayas. Dharali was our place of choice for some extreme winter action this year. Christened Snow Storm 2017 (yes we’d done one last year in 2016, a pilot version and things had run well then) a bigger version with more participation was planned this year. Spearheading the action was Where Eagles Dare, an amazing adventure outfit based in Uttarkashi and run by an xBhpian Tilak Soni. It had been my long time wish to see more riders enjoy extreme winter riding conditions not just as visiting travellers but also end up learning about motorcycling in such low traction conditions as also about taking care both of themselves and their machines in sub-zero temperatures. Tilak and I had joined hands last year for the pilot run of this event and though we got some snow only on the very last day, it was enough to prove the possibilities of fun and learning such an activity would hold within. Little did we guess at the time of reaching out to people for participation this year as to how much snow the weather gods would bless us with.
Tilak reached out to people countrywide and we got a lot of interest. We had to restrict the number of paticipants to under 30 as ensuring accommodation for more at Dharali at this time of the year would have been difficult. The small town is closed for winter and everyone there moves out to Uttarkashi to wait out the snow till March end.
So we ended up with some 15 riders and 10 other participants joining in their SUV’s. Everyone reached Uttarkashi by the 14th of January 2017 evening. A pre-dinner briefing about the upcoming 4 days was topped with handing out a small kit comprising of a winter survival handbook, a fleece cap, a fleece muffler and detailed itinerary of the action to come. Apart from yours truly and Tilak at the helm we had Shivanshu (@shivanshu) and Dhairya assisting us. To add an extra edge to the motorcycling action group we’d invited Vivek Sharma to join us to. Vivek, also an xBhpian, is a Raid de Himalaya winner and a very experienced off-roader. He brought in his tow, literally, his amazing Yamaha WR 450 in full knobbies to add to the action. Towed in a custom built trailer behind his Mahindra Thar, the bike was literally a wolf among the sheep.
We were flagged off by the Uttarkashi administration on the 15th morning and headed out to Dharali. The first 40 km out of a total of 65 was the usual mountain roads. Smooth dry twisty tarmac. Sukhi Top onwards, from there the road goes over to the Harsil Valley and also was where the action began. The group hit its first frozen stretch there and the name Snow Storm came alive. Traction reduced to zero and feet out duck-walk riding ruled the roost. All of a sudden the bike wanted to slide more than ride! Well, that’s what ice does to the roads actually. Downhill turns can be scary as the bike tends to pick up speed when you least want it to. Braking on ice means a slide. The idea in such low traction conditions is not to let the bike (or car) gain speed and use partial rear brake to control the build-up. The whole ballgame is of partial control usage – throttle, brakes and clutch. And loads of patience. Forget the front brake on your bike while you’re riding on snow or ice. And focus on one input at a time – either steer or brake. Don’t do both as there’s barely enough traction for even one of these. It takes time to get things out of one’s muscle memory as most of the time we ride in excess traction conditions on tarmac and so can get away with multiple demands on the tyres for grip. Snow and ice are unforgiving and miserly with traction. A slip here and a fall there were added impetus for the riders to learn quickly. All being properly geared up meant there were no injuries. In any case low speed spills on snow rarely cause injuries. The descent down from Sukhi Top was all about learning. And then we hit the 12 km home stretch that would take us past Harsil and to Dharali 3 km beyond it. This road was completely snowed over and those 12 km might have been 120 instead. The SUV’s rolled on behind the bikes, patient and giving the drivers and passengers more time to view the beauty of the snow covered vistas all around.
The group reached Dharali late afternoon. Nightfall meant a dramatic fall in temperature into the sub-zero zone. A bonfire and rounds of hot tea and soup kept things warm. It started snowing again later at night and everyone went to bed looking forward to some deeper white fluff in the morning. The weather gods did not disappoint us and we got loads of what we’d come for – snow. The skies were still overcast and an occasional flake was still coasting down. Breakfast done and engines warmed, everyone geared up for practice and some more practice in the snow. An early afternoon blizzard made things really exciting and the event could live up to its name – snow storm! The riders and drivers were getting the knack of keeping their vehicles in control over snow and ice and thus gain in skills added to their confidence and so to the fun they could have. Vivek’s son Aryan, all of 8 years and a bundle of energy, became an accomplished snow ball warrior over the day. And helped make a snow storm snowman to boot. Late afternoon was spent getting the participants familiar with basic winter survival skills, Tilak being a formally trained mountaineer (yours truly too but from a long time ago) helped then get a grasp on using tents, assessing snow conditions and the weather. There were lessons on dressing properly for the cold and eating well with special emphasis on avoiding dehydration and its associated problems.
It kept snowing intermittently through the evening and night of the 16th, but 17th dawned to relatively clear skies. And it was cold. The Diesel Thar’s gave problems associated with Diesel precipitating its waxy elements and blocking the fuel line and filters. Strategic heating of the fuel tanks and opening and clearing the fuel line solved the problem and the engines were soon purring like a cat. The Border Roads Organisation, God bless them, sent in bulldozers who cleared the roads ahead of us making riding and driving somewhat easier. The return ride was whiter than ever but with both skills and spirits on a high it was a fun journey back. Sukhi Top thankfully had been cleared of the worst of the snow and everyone made it to the top slow but easy. A few hairpins down and the snow started doing the disappearing act. It was just wet tarmac thereon and the riders gained a burst of euphoric speed once free of the shackles of low traction snow and ice. Euphemistically speaking Snow Storm 2017 was over with no more snow on the road. But yes there was still the home run to Uttarkashi left and needed just as much care as any mountain ride does. The group reached Uttarkashi with nary a mishap out any problems whatsoever. Quite an achievement this considering the extreme conditions that prevailed all through. All the participants were awarded certificates for successfully completing the ride and survival training. Soon it was time for everyone to have dinner and some well-earned rest. Tomorrow would begin their respective journeys home. Snow Storm 2017 had participation from Kerala, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Baroda and lots of other places from the north. An amazing experience for a wonderful group.
We’ve recreated the same four on Castrol Power1 Biking Routes website in case you want to ride on the same! You can find the route here